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What is Living System Ministry?
Doug Hall's picture

Even though we’ve been writing this blog for close to a year now and have talked about various components of Living System Ministry, I thought it would be helpful to write a clear description of what it’s really all about.

Living System Ministry is a discipline of Christian practice that recognizes the differences between the living systems that God makes and the constructs that people make, offering insights and practical tools to help us align with and effectively engage living social systems.

When we design most any technological innovation (meaning all the things people may construct, including our organizations), we are trying to make our world function the way we want it to – the way we think it ought to work. Aligning with the living system design of creation is very different. This requires discovering how the system itself is designed by God to function naturally, independent of my thoughts about how I think it ought to work.

Actually, we apply this kind of thinking all the time. My physician, for example, tries to help my body operate according to its design as a human organism, but his job is not to make me bionic. The weatherman tries to understand how weather systems work so that he can predict the weather for the weekend, but his job is not to stop a snowstorm because it threatens to interrupt some planned activity. We don’t try to stop earthquakes, but we design buildings that can remain standing should the earth shake. Our approach in all these things is to align our actions to the ways created systems are designed to work, not to attempt to force living systems to change in ways contrary to their natural designs.

While we have no trouble aligning to large living systems in these and other areas of our lives, we tend not to even see them when we are pursuing ministry. To practice Living System Ministry, we start by learning to see the difference between those things we can easily solve and understand and those things which are of a more complex nature which would require different thinking and different tools to address.

I have been exposed to the

I have been exposed to the “living system ministry curse”. Once I began to truly wrestle with this revolutionary concept, I could no longer return to the status quo. A whole new perspective and set of questions opened up for me. I do not ask, “How do we do it?” anymore, but now I’m forced to ask, “How does it get done?” It may seem like a subtle shift on the surface, but it is more substantial than it initially appears.

Though I now see ministry operating in a dynamic, living, organic system, the dominate perspective is still one of a linear, bounded set, systematic context. This poses significant challenges for meaningful dialogue without an ongoing sense of misunderstanding and frustration.

Since also discovering a systemic understanding of why the “works method” doesn’t work, it has become painfully obvious that our attempts at developing genuine ministry in response to real needs often create all kinds of long-term, unintended negative consequences. “We have met the enemy. And he is us.”

For this and other reasons, I am still struggling with how to apply a living system ministry model in my current context. Therefore, I am thankful to have this blog as a context for ongoing engagement with others who have already been exposed to the “curse”. And though it poses all kinds of challenges, I am thankful that I have been exposed because I believe that this “curse” is probably one of the greatest blessings I have experienced in ministry. Thank you, Dr. Hall. ;)

Richard Schneberger's picture
Submitted by Richard Schneberger (not verified) on Thu, 05/17/2012 - 1:40pm.
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